White paper: Academy trust ‘divorce’ plans split sector leaders

DfE to consult on 'exceptional circumstances' in which academies could request move to 'stronger' trust

DfE to consult on 'exceptional circumstances' in which academies could request move to 'stronger' trust

1 Apr 2022, 17:00

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Sector leaders are split over plans to let some good schools break away from failing academy trusts, with officials facing a headache over how  to make the “divorce clause” work.

The Department for Education will consult on the “exceptional circumstances in which a good school could request that the regulator agrees to the school moving to a stronger trust”.

Transfers currently only happen on trusts’ say-so or the government’s orders.

Ministers also appear set to strengthen schools’ voices within their multi-academy trusts.

MATs “should have local governance arrangements” and protect schools’ local identity, the white paper says.

There will be “transparency measures” too over cash that trusts top-slice from their funding.

The measures are aimed at easing the worries of reluctant academy converters as the government embarks on its mission for an all-MAT system by 2030.

Pepe Di’Iasio, the head of Wales High School in South Yorkshire and the president of the school leaders’ union ASCL, said: “Now you can try before you buy, and get out of something that once you were tied into forever.”

However, dates for the introduction of the changes are vague.

Emma Knights, the chief executive of the National Governance Association, said stronger local governance was “to be applauded”.

Academy body would oppose mandatory local governance

But Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said it would strongly oppose any attempt to mandate local governance arrangements.

The group, representing almost two-thirds of MATs, was also “deeply concerned” about schools leaving trusts.

Calling it a “retrograde step”, Cruddas said proposals “fail to understand the trust is the legal entity, not an authority somehow separate from its schools”.

Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, agreed it was not a “well-formed idea”, noting schools lost their independent legal status in trusts.

“The governing body is the trust board – there isn’t a local group that can take a school out.”

He warned it would “plunge the DfE into direct involvement in local conflicts and politics”, as well as complex issues over staff whose roles spanned multiple schools.

Josh Coleman, the chief executive of the East Midlands Academy Trust, said the system could become one in which schools kept “jumping around like a flea”, as the government also plans to strip trusts of “coasting” schools. “That doesn’t build sustainability or positivity.”

Others noted only brave local committees and heads would use such powers. “Trustees appoint them, and have the right to remove them. It feels a bit meaningless – I’d love to see the detail,” said Paul Heery, the chief executive of The White Hills Park Trust.

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